Making Waves – Social Media for Wellbeing [guest blog post by Trevor Lakey]

What have Professor Stephen Hawking and a group of girls in Soweto got in common? Answer: they’ve both been inspirations for our social media and wellbeing journey in Scotland. We’ve been keen to explore the potential of new communication and social media methods in promoting the health of communities. Can new forms of communication, dialogue and sharing of stories help change perspectives, challenge misconceptions and educate?

These are some of the themes we set out to grapple with back in the Spring of 2011, as we established our Mind Waves Community Media project. At the start of that summer, we were fortunate to “stumble across” the global movement that is Social Media Week, as project preparations got underway. Running an event as part of the September 2011 Glasgow Social Media Week proved a fantastic launch-pad. It significantly aided the recruitment of our team of Community Reporters during the autumn of last year.

Our idea has been to support a group of people to create and share stories about positive mental health initiatives in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area. We could only guess what path this initiative would take. Over the year it’s been quite a journey with a great deal of support and encouragement received from many colleagues.
More than anything, our Community Reporters, who are all volunteers, have grasped the opportunity to create and share some fantastic reports and commentaries on many aspects of mental health, wellbeing and recovery.

No-one would suggest that social media approaches alone can resolve complex health and social problems, or overturn the challenges of disadvantage or discrimination. But there is a growing body of experience pointing to real benefit. Emerging learning includes how public sector agencies can engage with communities, voluntary sector partners and others to facilitate dialogue, what kinds of resources, training and encouragement do Community Reporters need to be effective, how do we stimulate wider debate?

And what of the influences noted at the start? The Soweto girls were part of the Global Girl media project, which “kicked off” during the South African world cup finals in 2010. They were given training in media skills and reported on football and much else besides, such as the impact of HIV. To-date they have produced more than 160 video, mobile and blog reports.

The Professor Hawking connection was Mind Waves’ experience of being a finalist in the 2012 Technology for Good Awards. Professor Hawkins was awarded an AbilityNet accessibility award, and prepared an acceptance film, where he shared these sentiments: “Technology is a vital part of human existence… the right tools in the right hands can help everyone, regardless of our frailties, to achieve our true potential and advance as a civilisation.”

There are many other examples of communities gaining the skills and confidence to create their own news, dialogue, debate and change. This ranges from:

  • individual health-related web developments, like magazine website You Must Be Mental created by a young fashion journalist
  • a platform for HIV-positive people to tell their own stories through photography, with the project Through Positive Eyes
  • political campaigning – such as Get On Board in Ireland, lobbying to get youth mental health on the political agenda

If you find the above issues of interest, we’d be delighted to welcome you to an event we are organising as part of this year’s Social Media Week, called “Making Waves – Social Media, Empowerment and Wellbeing.” In addition to launching the next phase of our Mind Waves project, we have inputs from an exciting blend of speakers with further insights on the potential of social media for wellbeing.

We look forward to engaging with you in coming weeks and months and to hearing more about your perspectives on social media for wellbeing.

Trevor Lakey has worked for over 20 years in the field of public health, he has a lead health improvement role in the areas of mental health, alcohol and drugs, with significant experience in promoting child and youth health. He sits on SMWGla’s advisory board.

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